New Career Breaks Bill promotes care and study leave

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Under the terms of a new bill, announced in April 1997, employees in the Netherlands will be entitled to benefits if they interrupt their careers for care or study leave, on condition that the employer hires an unemployed person for the same period

At the end of April 1997, the Dutch Minister of Social Affairs announced the draft of a bill which entitles employees taking care or study leave for between two and six months to receive benefits.

Since 1995 in particular, improving the opportunities for employees to combine paid work with care-related tasks has become an issue which has been taken up by both sides of industry and government. The idea is that more specific regulation of leave facilities and of opportunities for career breaks might contribute towards new forms of work organisation which would allow greater flexibility and differentiation in working hours, patterns of work and conditions of work. These new forms of organisation could serve the interests of employees (through allowing the combination of paid work with care-related tasks or study leave and an improvement in "employability"); of employers (flexibility); and of government (employment promotion and greater freedom).

As is evident from the Cabinet's note on Working and caring, released in September 1995, and from the bipartite Labour Foundation's recommendation with the same title released on 18 March 1997, there is a large degree of consensus amongst both sides of industry and government on the measures to be taken. Prime accountability for regulating this matter is explicitly assigned to both sides of industry. The Government's role will be primarily supplementary and facilitative, although it reserves the right to take regulatory action if the two sides of industry seem to be taking too long to arrive at adequate arrangements.

Taking care or study leave is not made into an individual right. Instead, funding is provided which an employee is allowed to make use of. Eligibility for the new benefit is subject to two conditions: the employer has to consent to the employee's wish to take the leave, and, for the period of leave concerned, the employer has to hire a person who is receiving unemployment benefit or who has been unemployed for more than two years. The Government's principle of budgetary neutrality with regard to the new funding arrangements, which is shared between employers and employees, means that the level of the new benefit will, consequently, be more than NLG 900 gross per month. According to the results of previous research, about 62% of those employees wishing to take leave would actually take advantage of the new arrangements under these conditions.

Responsibility for regulating more extensive paternity leave is, for the time being, being left to the two sides of industry themselves. A further funding facility is going to be created to cover adoption leave: for a maximum of four weeks, employees involved in an adoption procedure may receive payments on the basis of the Sickness Benefits Act.

The draft of the Career Breaks Bill has now been sent to the State Council for its advice; the new rules should be in force by mid-1998.

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